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Nathan Milstein (violin)
The U.S. Armed Forces Studio Recordings
rec. 1944-50
BIDDULPH 85015-2 [77]

Biddulph’s release draws on diverse sources from Milstein’s less well-known discography. The recordings date between 1944 and 1950. The earliest are the AFRS discs (Armed Forces Radio Service), released by the U.S. War Department. Here Milstein is accompanied by Valentin Pavlovsky. These were set down in 1944. From the same year are three V discs where the violinist is accompanied by Arthur Balsam. Fast forward to 1949 and we have two Voice of America ‘Great Artists’ recordings, one with Joseph Kahn in the accompanying role, the other orchestrally supported with Arthur Fielder at the helm of the NBC Symphony Orchestra. Finally there’s a 1950 10” RCA Victor album, again with Fielder and his NBC forces.

What has always posed a dilemma for me with Milstein’s artistry is that despite his prodigious technical equipment, his playing lacks the individuality and personality of colleagues such as Kreisler, Elman, Heifetz, Menuhin and Stern. Henry Roth in his book Violin Virtuosos felt that his playing did not “reflect Menuhin’s profundity of spirit or Stern’s intellectual authority and earthiness”, yet he did acknowledge Milstein’s superior instrumental command.

A case in point is Brahms Violin Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 100. Browsing his online discography, Milstein appears to have only commercially recorded the Third Sonata with Vladimir Horowitz in 1950, and there are also two live airings from 1960 and 1960 with Nikita Magaloff and Walter Klein respectively. He never took Nos. 1 and 2 into the studio. A live performance of Op. 100 at Carnegie Hall on 2 March 1945 gleaned a barely lukewarm review from Noel Strauss of the New York Times. The performance here is bland, unimaginative and monochrome and Milstein, to me, doesn’t seem fully committed to the music. It’s generally a disappointment.

Much better is Vivaldi’s Sonata Op.2 No.2 in A major in the David’s edition, a perennial favorite of the violinist. He’d already made a commercial recording of this in 1936 with Leopold Mittman, but I haven’t heard it to offer any comparisons. Aside from this AFRS performance, there are three more live airings listed in his discography. The performance here showcases some marvellous playing in terms of crisp incisive bowing and immaculate intonation. The lyrical sections are expressively contoured. If there’s one criticism, the piano is slightly recessed.

Encore pieces account for the remaining AFRS and V Disc recordings. The two Wieniawski works and Rimsky Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee are dazzlingly dispatched with self-assurance and panache. In contrast, the two versions of Massenet’s Meditation from Thaïs are elegantly rendered and add some soothing calm to the programme.

The final tracks of the disc are devoted to a transfer of a 10” RCA LP of encore pieces arranged by Leroy Anderson. Milstein is accompanied by Arthur Fielder at the helm of the RCA Victor Orchestra. The recordings were made in January 1950. The orchestra was a pick-up drawing players from the New York Philharmonic-Symphony, the Met Orchestra and the NBC Symphony. The Mendelssohn, Schubert and Foster numbers are valuable additions to the artist’s discography. Tully Potter speculates in the accompanying notes that they were probably learned especially for the occasion. They’re beautifully played. Milstein’s fingered octaves in the Schubert are pristine, and Poldini’s Dancing Doll in the Kreisler arrangement has real rhythmic buoyancy and flair. Fielder also conducts the NBC Orchestra in the final Rondo of Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole. The work was something of an evergreen in the Milstein repertoire, though he always performed it without the Intermezzo, which was common practice at the time. This is a 1949 ‘Voice of America’ recording.

Audio quality is respectable throughout.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf 


Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Violin Sonata, Op. 2 No. 2 in A major, RV 31 arr Ferdinand David
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Violin Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 100
Jules Massenet (1842-1912)
Meditation from Thaïs arr Marsick
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Vocalise-étude en forme de habanera
Henryk Wieniawski (1835-1880)
Étude-caprice, Op. 18 No. 4 in A minor
Scherzo-Tarantelle in G minor, Op. 16
Valentin Pavlovsky (piano)
rec. 1944, AFRS ‘Basic Music Library’

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Abendlied (No. 12 from Klavierstücke für kleine und große Kinder, Op. 85)
Jules Massenet
Meditation from Thaïs arr Marsick
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)
Flight of the Bumble Bee
Artur Balsam (piano)
rec. May 1944 on V Disc

Christoph Willibald von Gluck (1714-1787)
Orfeo ed Euridice: Mélodie arr Fritz Kreisler
Josef Suk (1874-1935)
Four Pieces, Op. 17 for violin and piano: IV. Burleska
Joseph Kahn (piano)
rec. 26 June 1949 for Voice of America ‘Great Artists’ series
Edouard Lalo (1823-1892)
Symphonie espagnole, Op. 21: V. Rondo
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Arthur Fiedler
rec. 26 June 1949  for Voice of America ‘Great Artists’ series

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Ave Maria, D839 arr orch Leroy Anderson
Ständchen 'Leise flehen meine Lieder', D957 No. 4 arr orch Leroy Anderson
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Auf Flügeln des Gesanges, Op. 34 No. 2 arr orch Leroy Anderson
Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)
Après un rêve, Op. 7 No. 1 arr orch Leroy Anderson
Ede Poldini (1869-1957)
Poupée valsante arr Fritz Kreisler arr orch Leroy Anderson
Stephen Foster (1826–1864)
Old folks at home arr orch Leroy Anderson
RCA Victor Orchestra/Arthur Fiedler
rec. 17-19 January 1950

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